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Good translations must be expensive

Good translations must be expensiveThat's what one of the comments said for the article Crushing the mushroom: Why translation should be 'reassuringly expensive' on the b2b marketing blog.

Here is a word of caution to anyone who believes this: It is a bunch of hogwash.

The notion of translations needing to be "reassuringly expensive" is based on a fallacy. Translation quality has very little to do with price - and vice versa.

Don't get me wrong - justifying a higher price with superior quality makes sense, and there is nothing wrong with translation service providers maximizing their profitability. But what is wrong is the notion that good quality cannot exist without high prices.

We see this in our own business:

  1. When buying linguistic services from freelancers, we see very little connection between quality and price. Some of our best translators are also our least expensive ones. And, at times, we have paid a lot of money for really bad translations.
  2. We charge different prices to different clients. Sometimes that's because the process is a little different, and sometimes that's simply because we can. Regardless of whether we charge high or low prices, our quality standard is unwavering.
Translation service providers who cling to the notion that more people involved in a translation will "guarantee" quality (and then use that to justify longer schedules and higher costs) risk getting crushed like the mushrooms in the b2b marketing blog's article.

The future of medical translation (and, really, translation in general) is about subject-matter expertise, effective use of technology, and known, measurable translation quality.

ForeignExchange's METRiQ quality system provides medical device and pharmaceutical companies with measurable, known translation quality - at a lower cost. To learn more, contact ForeignExchange Translations.


  1. gabi said...
    both of the opposing statements that “good translations must be expensive” and that “translation quality has very little to do with price” are fundamentally misleading.

    without first of all defining what a 'good' translation is, what one means by ‘expensive,’ and what the ingredients of 'translation quality' are, none of these statements makes sense.

    many medical translations I read are basically error-free, but they are still not 'good' - if good also means that they succeed in choosing the correct register and using the target-language jargon and phraseology of the medical speciality and text type in question. they may meet some quality metrics – but language cannot be evaluated by readily measurable metrics alone.

    what is considered ‘expensive’ will vary from region to region, country to country, and continent to continent. for some languages, there’s more price competition than for others. price also has to do with the cost of living in a particular language area.

    it is a fact that there are many substandard translations out in the public domain – particularly in the area of medicine. linguistic quality in general is dwindling. many people today cannot tell a good and well-written text from one that’s not. yet, well-written texts will fulfil their communicative function. sloppily written texts will not.

    it is also a fact that price dumping in translation is a daily reality; not one day goes by without me receiving an offer for translation services at a price level that would leave the translator earn substantially less than my cleaning lady does. translation agencies are important drivers of this price-dumping development – not necessarily because they want their clients to get the best deal, but because they want to expand their own profit margin.

    it is also a fact that many people, including buyers of translation, are not aware of what translation actually involves and what price tag a ‘good’ translation will have.

    therefore, let's put the discussion about quality and pricing back on a serious level. it does not lend itself for marketing slogans: insiders know where the challenges lie. but potential buyers of translation will be confused.
    Anonymous said...
    I basically agree with you, but I do think, at times, when translation prices are very low, it is a clue that the quality will also be very bad.

    However, yes, I have also found good translators at low prices, and bad ones at high prices. For the ones that provide bad translations at high prices, I guess they just do what you do: charge high prices because someone will pay it. ;) (Meaning, the market will bear it, evidently.)

    But, of course, many good translators out there could charge more (the market would bear it, if they targeted the right market), but they don't.
    Eve Bodeux
    Paulina said...
    Oliver Lawrence said...
    I think the basic thesis of this article is flawed. In any market you would expect to pay more for a higher quality product (a fine wine costs more than a bottle of plonk). This is partly because the product is worth more, and partly because it has cost the producer more to make it (through more careful quality control, through the investment in training and resources to enable personnel to work more effectively, etc.). A major reason for price variability in the translation world, IMHO, is the lack of available data (while a supermarket can send a representative to the competitor's store down the road to see what they are charging, this is not as easy for translators). In other words, some good translators are not charging enough, and some not-so-good translators are charging too much.
    Mel said...
    The buzz around free translation softwares like Google Translate has done a lot to damage the perception of the added value of a good translation.
    As much as professional understand that a good translation is worth investing in, the growing perception that a translator's job consists in litle more than finetuning Google translate results, however inaccurate, does affect the willingness to pay translators what they deserve.

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